Veg? In a cake?


MOIST INSIDE  Beetroot not only adds sweetness, it helps keep the cake moist.

The Cabots

On most Mondays and Fridays about midday I get a phone call with a nice friendly voice just checking I haven’t forgotten to pick up the meals-on-wheels dinners for our neighbours. I normally tell a barefaced lie that of course I have not forgotten them, put down whatever I’m doing, and then race into town to try and not delay the ladies too long!
This amazing community service is provided by Westport Meals on Wheels, and it’s a lifesaver for so many people with various needs.
I often stay for a chat with Maureen, Clare, Ursula, or Sharon, and surprise, surprise the chat often turns to food. While talking with Maureen Scott one day we got around to beetroot and how best to use it. With her husband, Jimmy, she grows a whole host of great vegetables, including beetroot, in Shraugh, just beyond Louisburgh.
Last week, she produced some beetroot just taken from the ground. We’d also discussed how hard it is to make interesting and attractive dishes with beetroot, a vegetable we should be so proud of growing in Ireland. It takes a particular kind of soil to allow the beetroot’s flavours – which run from earthy to sweet – emerge. And their texture! A delight whether glistening soft or cooked with bite.
With this special present from Maureen I promised myself I’d cooking it in a new way: with chocolate in a cake. (It would be interesting to see if our kids would find the beetroot nice in any way.) For too long we have thought of beetroot only in jars of pickled preserve. Nice, but only one dimension of what this multi-dimensional vegetable has too offer.

Beetroot and chocolate cake
We looked at several recipes. Some used almond flour, some plain flour; some used more dark chocolate, some used more cocoa powder. We discussed it at home, and Penny and Louis gave their own input. We discussed whether we would use golden caster sugar or brown muscovado, cocoa powder or chocolate, grated beetroot or cooked beetroot.
In the end, the cupboard had a large hand in deciding the ingredients list, necessity being the mother of invention, and we decided on a combination of a Jamie Oliver version and an offering from the BBC Good Food website.

What you need

  • 190g cooked beetroot, roughly chopped
  • 100g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200ml vegetable oil
  • 100g dark chocolate chopped into pieces
  • Cream or crème fraîche to serve

What you do
Preheat your oven to 190°c. Blitz the cooked beetroot, adding a pinch of salt. Then add all the other ingredients into the mix, except the chocolate and oil. Mix well. Remember to catch everything on the sides of the bowl into the mix by scraping well.
Slowly drizzle the oil into the mix while stirring. When mixed, add the chocolate and hand mix.
Use a loaf or small round tin with greased sides to cook the cake mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer or sharp knife comes out clean when inserted. Remove, cover and allow cool. Serve in slices on side plates with cream, crème fraîche – or even ice cream or yogurt if you prefer.

What we learned

  • It’s hard, but not impossible, to mix a cake mix in a smoothie machine!
  • Beetroot can be sweet when cooked, so it’s a perfect ingredient for cakes. It also helps keeps the middle moist.
  • Beetroot can be grated raw and cooked in the baking if you don’t feel like cooking it beforehand.
  • If one only has self-raising flour to hand one may omit the raising agent (baking powder) from the recipe. (Ho ho! We already knew that but in all the confusion we still made the mistake.)
  • One can use cocoa powder and sugar, or chocolate and less sugar – both work well.
  • We like mixing flour with ground almond 50/50, but you go for 200g of flour and drop the ground almond if you prefer.
  • We like using more eggs than three, AND we first separating the whites, whisking them up and then folding the fluffiness into mix.
  • We would easily double the beetroot amount next time, as we struggled to identify pure beetroot tastes.

— Redmond

The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.